WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – After discovering a few sick squirrels, a local nonprofit organization is warning people in Warren of a viral disease affecting squirrels in the city.
Squirrel Pox is passed from squirrel to squirrel or transferred by a mosquito who bit an infected squirrel. Heather Merritt, founder of Birds in Flight Sanctuary, said the virus is highly contagious and deadly to squirrels.
“I wasn’t even sure what I had when I first got ’em, because I have never seen pox here,” she said.
Birds in Flight Sanctuary generally provides rescue, rehabilitation and medical care of sick, injured and orphaned birds of prey and waterfowl.
Merritt is now researching Squirrel Pox, speaking with the Ohio Department of Natural Resource’s Division of Wildlife and other wildlife organizations after receiving three fox squirrels who most likely had the viral disease. She said she was told by wildlife experts that the disease was fatal and that the organization’s resources probably wouldn’t save them.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resource’s website says the virus produces tumors on the skin of gray and fox squirrels. Metastasis to the lungs, liver, kidney and lymph nodes has been reported in rare instances. In general, there are no obvious signs of illness in infected squirrels except for the presence of the tumors.
In severe cases, vision can be obstructed or the skin can become infected, making the animal weak, less active and eventually lead to its death.
In addition, there is no known treatment or vaccine for Squirrel Pox.
Similar cases of Squirrel Pox have been reported in at least nine other states, including Pennsylvania, Indiana and Michigan.
“We’re not trying to get everybody panicked, but they do need to understand that, you know, this is here and it’s gonna stay here for awhile,” Merritt said.
Merritt said her organization has received a few additional calls about the sick squirrels from a few neighborhoods on Warren’s east side.
She offered advice to people spotting a squirrel with tumors to prevent the spread of the disease.
“Take that bird feeder down. Don’t let them come to that one local area of your bird feeder to feed there and then infect everybody else,” she said. “It’s best if we just kind of let it go and run its course.”
The Pennsylvania Game Commission also has more information about Squirrel Pox.